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Disillusion sets in as Togo’s opposition coalition crumbles

The coalition has meanwhile been hit by a corruption scandal relating to a 30-million CFA franc donation

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A protester wears a T-shirt with the inscription "Faure Must Go" during an anti-government rally in Lome

Afiwa Yogue sells material for a living in Togo’s capital, Lome, and is disillusioned with the West African country’s opposition leaders.

“We walked for months under the hot sun and sometimes in the rain, hoping to bring about the end of the regime,” the 34-year-old trader told AFP.

“But we were deceived, as the leaders of the opposition only fight among themselves. We’re tired of them.”

A coalition of 14 opposition parties came together more than 18 months ago to protest against the government of President Faure Gnassingbe.

In September and October 2017, there were huge marches on the streets of Lome and several other big cities in the north, calling for Gnassingbe to step down.

He has been in power since the death of his father in 2005. His father ruled Togo with an iron fist for 38 years.

But the size of the protests has dwindled and in the last two months there have been none. The last demonstration was on January 26 and few people turned out.

Seven of the 14 parties have since left the coalition, including the Panafrican National Party (PNP) of Tikpi Atchadam, the driving force behind the initial protests.

The National Alliance for Change (ANC) of opposition stalwart Jean-Pierre Fabre and the Action Committee for Renewal (CAR) of ex-premier Yawovi Agboyibo have followed.

They have complained about the direction the group was taking.

“Some think we need to restructure the coalition and give it a charter,” said PNP secretary-general Kossi Sama earlier this month.

“We don’t agree because that’s not what we need for the fight, it’s mass mobilisation.”

Fulbert Sassou Attisso, head of the Another Togo party, said there had been few positives about the campaign in the last 18 months.

“We are all to blame for this new setback,” he told AFP after his party left the coalition.

“But it’s down to the political culture of the Togolese opposition since the start of the fight (against the Gnassingbes) in 1990.”

Lack of coherence

Those left in the coalition on March 12 acknowledged the grouping’s failings, conceding it had “not achieved any of the objectives it set”.

“The development of the coalition has been marked by a lack of cohesion and confidence, with the result being unstructured action,” it assessed.

Togo’s opposition has been calling for constitutional reforms to reintroduce a two-term limit on presidents and the adoption of a two-round voting system at elections.

It also wants the release of all prisoners arrested during the wave of demonstrations. About 60 people are still being held.

The coalition has meanwhile been hit by a corruption scandal relating to a 30-million CFA franc donation.

One of the grouping’s leaders last week confirmed it had received the donation from a regional leader but insisted it was used for organising demonstrations.

Attah Hinnou, 44, runs a service-station in Lome. He said Togo’s opposition leaders only looked after themselves.

“The people got behind them again but they disappointed us again. Every time it’s the same thing: petty squabbles, mistrust, and so on,” he added.

Since moves began towards a more democratic political system in 1990, Togo’s opposition has often lacked a coherent strategy.

Attempts to field a single unified candidate have always failed just before presidential elections, leaving the door wide open for the Gnassingbe regime.

The opposition has also boycotted parliamentary elections, notably those in 2002, which allowed the government to amend the constitution in its favour.

“The boycott of the December 20 parliamentary elections last year caused consternation in the coalition,” said Edouard Baglo, a political scientist.

“The grouping’s leader are well aware they made a serious mistake, after months of struggle. 

“The ruling party is totally comfortable in parliament with 59 deputies out of 91, not counting those of allied political parties.”

Throughout the process, opposition leaders condemned “irregularities” in the vote, even though African Union and ECOWAS observers said it was “free and fair”.

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Op-Ed

First 100 days in office, what’s in it? (Opinion)

We must not allow ourselves to be distracted or caught up in the noise around the first 100 days.

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The first 100 days

Recently, Nigerians have been pulling out scorecards and more to try and calculate the performances of their governors and the president after their first 100 days in office. Newspaper headlines had these elected officials and those who worked for them sharing achievements of their first 100 days. 

But why and when did the first 100 days become any kind of benchmark? Many of us don’t even know the history behind the concept of the first 100 days. So let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. 

How it started?

The concept is believed to have its roots in France, where “Cent Jours” or hundred days, refers to the period of time in 1815 when Napoleon Bonaparte returned to Paris from exile and his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. 

It became a key benchmark in America during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt became president in 1932, taking leadership of an America that was extremely battered and was attempting to crawl out of the Great Depression, which followed the crash of the stock market in October 1929. 

Jide Sanwo-Olu also celebrates first 100 days in Office
A cut-out portrait of Nigeria’s Babajide Sanwo-Olu (L), and a portrait of his running mate, Obafemi Hamzat, are displayed along a road on March 6, 2019, in the Ikoyi district of the country’s largest city. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

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He campaigned and won on the idea of a “new deal” for Americans that would see them through and past the hard times. Now, in order to tackle the issues facing the American economy at the time, he pushed through over a dozen pieces of major legislation during the first 3 months of his tenure. The first measures of the New Deal are referred to as the first 100 days. 

So therein lies the historical background of the first 100 days. But should it still apply in the 21st century? Can the first 100 days really show you the direction and possible outcome of any administration? Those are the questions we must answer individually as citizens. However, the way and manner the first 100 days is bandied about in Nigeria, simply makes you wonder what the big deal is. 

First 100 days records in Nigeria

Let’s start with President Muhammadu Buhari. According to his party, his second term’s first 100 days have gone well. The National Chairman of the APC said appointing ministers earlier than he did in 2015, having the 2020 budget prepared, and even engaging various professional groups have been the achievements of the first 100 days.

In Lagos, Governor Jide Sanwo-olu said the executive order declaring an emergency on traffic management and transportation and rehabilitation of atrial roads were achievements in his first 100 days.

In Oyo State, Governor Seyi Makinde, listed some of his achievements to be cancellation of all levies paid in Oyo public schools, going to Benin Republic for collaborations in the agribusiness sector and also having a 27 year-old commissioner. 

Buhari's First 100 days
Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari (C) looks on during the African Union summit at the palais des Congres in Niamey, on July 7, 2019. (Photo by ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP)

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Each of these gentlemen claim more achievements in their first 100 days, but should we keep the first 100 days as a benchmark along the timeline of an administration?

The 100 days – is it enough?

As citizens of Nigeria and residents of various states, what do we think the first 100 days can tell us about any administration? 

Oftentimes, it appears there is a race to rack up “achievements” or grand gestures on the way to the first 100 days, but what happens after that? Using about 3 months to judge administrations that have 48 months to fulfill their mandate seems a bit pedestrian. 

We must not allow ourselves to be distracted or caught up in the noise around the first 100 days. Governance is a continuous journey, yes, with milestones along the way. But with the way we have elected officials holding programs, writing speeches, etc on their first 100 days, one would think it was more than that. 

The bar in Nigeria many would say has been set low, some would even argue that the bar is underground at this point. What we as citizens need to realize is that the bar is wherever we want it to. When we start to demand better, make those seeking our vote accountable to their campaign promises, and hand out consequences when they don’t meet our expectations, the bar will rise. 

And when the bar rises, we’ll find that the first 100 days loses some of the glamour around it.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect News Central TV’s editorial stance.

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North Africa

2 candidates claim first round wins in Tunisia elections

Turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls

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Tunisia elections: 2 candidates claim wins

Two anti-establishment candidates in Tunisia’s election claimed Sunday to have won through to a runoff, hours after polling closed in the country’s second free presidential poll since the 2011 Arab Spring.

In a sign of voter apathy, especially among the young, turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls. Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs who ran as an independent, claimed to be in pole position.

He finished “first in the first round,” he said, citing exit polls ahead of preliminary results expected to be announced on Tuesday. There was also an upbeat atmosphere at the party headquarters of jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui, behind bars due to a money laundering probe, as hundreds of supporters celebrated after he also claimed to have reached the second round.

Other prominent candidates in the first round included Abdelfattah Mourou, heading a first-time bid for Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. Ennahdha insisted it would wait for the official results. 

“Only the elections board gives the results,” said Ennahdha MP and Mourou’s campaign director, Samir Dilou. “I do not doubt the work of the polling institutes, (but) it is not their role to impose a certain truth on the public,” he told reporters.

Chahed’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living. The prime minister has also found himself having to vehemently deny accusations that Karoui’s detention since late August was politically inspired.

Tunisia Elections: citizens cast their votes
Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Detained but undeterred; Nabil Karoui’s campaign continues in Tunisia

‘Where are the young?’

“Young people of Tunisia, you still have an hour to vote!” ISIE head Nabil Baffoun had urged before the close of Sunday’s vote. “We must leave our homes and vote – it’s a right that we gained from the 2011 revolution which cost lives,” Baffoun added, visibly disappointed by the turnout.

However, he later said that the turnout of 45 percent was “an acceptable level”. At polling stations visited by journalists, there was a high proportion of older voters, but few young people. The election followed an intense campaign characterised more by personality clashes than political differences. 

It had been brought forward by the death of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in July and whose widow also passed away on Sunday morning. Essebsi had been elected in the wake of the 2011 revolt that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Publication of opinion polls has officially been banned since July. Some of the 24 hopefuls who contested the polls tried to burnish anti-establishment credentials to distance themselves from a political elite discredited by personal quarrels. Another independent candidate was Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, a technocrat running for the first time, although with backing from Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party.

The long list of active runners was trimmed by the last-minute withdrawal of two candidates in favour of Zbidi, although their names remained on the ballot paper. But Karoui’s detention, just 10 days ahead of the start of campaigning, has been the top story of the election. Studies suggested his arrest boosted his popularity.

A controversial businessman, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest. But his detractors portray him as a would-be Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier who they allege partly owns his channel.

On Friday, an appeal for the Tunisian mogul’s release from prison ahead of the election was rejected, his party and lawyers said. The polarisation risks derailing the electoral process, according to Michael Ayari, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city
Tunisian voters queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy

‘Divisive’ candidates

Isabelle Werenfels, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, called the vote a democratic “test” because “it may require accepting the victory of a polarising candidate” such as Karoui. Distrust of the political elite has been deepened by an unemployment rate of 15 percent and a rise in the cost of living by close to a third since 2016.

Jihadist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector. Around 70,000 security forces were mobilised for the polls. The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.

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North Africa

Algeria’s interim President announces elections on December 12

Demonstrators are demanding key regime figures step down and an overhaul of political institutions before any polls

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Abdelkader Bensalah announces Algeria Elections December 12

Algeria is to hold a presidential election on December 12, five months into a political vacuum since longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests, his interim successor announced Sunday.

“I have decided… that the date of the presidential election will be Thursday, December 12,” said Abdelkader Bensalah, who is precluded from standing himself, in a televised address to the nation.

The announcement comes after army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, seen as Algeria’s strongman since the fall of the ailing Bouteflika, insisted that polls be held by the end of 2019, despite ongoing protests demanding the creation of new institutions ahead of any elections.

On Friday, Algerian protesters returned to the streets after parliament passed bills paving the way for the announcement of elections.

Demonstrators are demanding key regime figures step down and an overhaul of political institutions before any polls, arguing an election under the current framework would only reinforce the status quo.

Gaid Salah earlier this month called for an electoral college to be summoned on September 15 so as to conduct an election within 90 days, in mid-December. Last week, parliament passed two bills that would facilitate the announcement of the vote. 

Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati presented the bills on Wednesday, with both legislative chambers passing them within two days. Opposition parties in the People’s National Assembly boycotted the session in which the bills were passed.

The first bill proposed the creation of an “independent” election authority, while the second text was a revision of Algeria’s electoral law. Presidential polls originally planned for July 4 were postponed due to a lack of viable candidates, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis as the 90-day mandate for Bensalah expired in early July. 

The army’s high command has rejected any solution to the crisis other than presidential elections “in the shortest possible time”.

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